What’s The Best Diet for Your Brain
It’s really hard for me to resist. Call it my guilty pleasure. When I find myself in a position where fast food is the best option, I have no problem rolling up to McDonald’s.
Yes, I know the food is horrible for you. And some might call McDonald’s the Satan of fast food. But when I take a look at that dollar menu, it doesn’t take long to make a decision. BOOM!
“Double Cheeseburger, please.”
Okay, okay….fine. I usually order two. But normally, I don’t have a habit of rolling up to a drive thru unless it’s a special occasion. And I still have a momentary pang of guilt about how this is probably some of the worst food I can eat. But two minutes later when I’m scarfing down the burgers, I tend to forget how bad it is for me.
We all know diet is a big part of being healthy. Today we are constantly caught between the increasing convenience of fast food and the knowledge of how bad it is for our health.
What you eat can have a big effect on your life. It’s been linked to cancer, cardiovascular health, energy levels, and stroke. But can what you eat affect your brain health? A kind of brain diet, so to speak? In fact, there is some solid evidence that says there just might be.
The Winner is…
So what seems to be the best diet for your brain?
The Mediterranean diet.
Some of you may be surprised, others maybe not. It gets a fair amount of press in the media for its many benefits. The exciting thing is that – scientifically – researchers have just upped their game when proving its mental benefits. It has officially gone from less hype to more real.
You see, a lot of studies previously have been what scientists call “observational”. This is pretty normal when researching long term health benefits. It’s a less expensive and far more convenient way to conduct studies. But it’s harder to draw concrete conclusions and test variables from these types of studies. Mostly because you can only “observe” changes in the data, instead of testing cause and effect.
While the evidence for the Mediterranean Diet is favorable, there’s a more convincing research method.
A study type called “Randomized Clinical Trial” – RCT for short – is the gold standard for scientific evidence. It’s less open to interpretation and more strict in it’s methods. And that’s exactly what researchers did.
A study published in May 2015 looked at the Mediterranean diet and its relation to cognitive decline. They took 447 cognitively healthy volunteers and studied them over 6 years. They were split randomly into three groups and prescribed different diets. One group was assigned a Mediterranean diet with mixed nuts, another a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil, and the last group was given advice to reduce dietary fat.
The participants were also measured on 6 different cognitive measures. The researchers tested for memory, attention, and other executive functions.
The researchers found some differences between the different diets.
Memory was stronger in the participants who were on the Mediterranean diet with mixed nuts. But for attention and executive functions it was the Mediterranean diet with olive oil. It was also the olive oil group that had stronger measures of global cognition.
The authors of the study said that these results most likely come from the large amount of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents found in the nuts and olive oil.
What’s in the Mediterranean Diet
Some of you might be curious what the Mediterranean diet consists of. So here’s a quick primer.
Basically the Mediterranean diet emphasizes several types of foods. Lots of fresh vegetables, legumes, and fruits. A moderate intake of dairy products – usually yogurts and cheeses. For meat, it’s mostly fish and other types of seafood. Red meat and poultry is usually consumed in low amounts.
It’s also characterized by a moderate amount of wine intake. Don’t get too excited there, that usually means like a glass a day.
Also a high consumption of olive oil is a key characteristic of the Mediterranean diet.
Diet is a Four Letter Word
I’m not a huge fan of the word “diet”. Mostly because it’s associated with temporarily trying out the newest eating trend. And usually done in the hopes of weight loss. It’s almost always short lived and people rarely find it successful.
Diet, in this article, describes a lifestyle of food choices. Really, that’s how healthy eating should be viewed. Not something temporary. This study is just another shining example of how it’s the long term choices that will lead to real brain health. A theme I talk about regularly here at TheBrainflux.
It’s also important to note that there wasn’t an improvement in mental abilities – as some news articles are suggesting in the media. Rather the results reflect a slowing of cognitive decline. So keep in mind that the Mediterranean diet doesn’t show results the next morning. And it’s not likely you’ll be walking around talking about the intricacies or shortcomings of the theory of relativity.
One Step at a Time
One study is never a definitive answer, but this gives us clues to how diet affects your brain health. Nutrition is a complex beast and there’s lots of moving parts. So this might be just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a helpful one. I may cover some tips on preparing Mediterranean meals and snacks in a later article, so stay tuned.
If you want more great tips and news about brain health, I encourage you to sign up for TheBrainflux newsletter. And if you found the article interesting, feel free to share with others!
Image Credit: Ars Electronica